Emporia Smart EV Charger – CleanTechnica Review

I recently had the opportunity to test an EV charger that can integrate into a “smart home” as well as play nice with home solar and other things. I wasn’t able to test all of the features, but I did get some hands-on time and did some limited testing with the Emporia Level 2 EV Charger and it’s not only “smart,” but very adaptable.

Features & Specs

Unlike many other EV charging stations (or, more correctly, EVSEs) I’ve worked with, this one is designed to be installed at home. But, while you don’t get much in the way of portability, you do gain a number of important advantages that makes it worth installing permanently on a wall or in your garage.

When it comes to just being an EV charging station, it’s got some great specs and features. Maximum power input is 48 amps, which is more than you can draw from the NEMA 14-50 outlet my example came with. But, if you hardwire it or feed that 14-50 outlet with beefy enough wires, you can pull the whole 48. At 240 volts, that’s over 11 kW, which is more than most EVs can pull for Level 2. Or, you can turn it down to as little as 12 amps. It’s entirely up to you.

So, it’s relatively future-proof (or at least should work for the next several EVs you have).

It also has a great form factor for practical use. The outer casing is very simple and minimalist. It’s got a white outer shell with lights to tell you if it’s getting power, whether there’s a fault, if it’s charging an EV, and its wifi connection status. There’s an included hanger for the J1772 plug, which also seems like a great place to spool up the charging cable when not in use, assuming you don’t just wrap it around the whole unit. Construction of everything, including the J1772 plug, all seems very solid.

Where it goes beyond being a normal EVSE is in its connectivity and ability to play nice with other devices, including home energy management, solar, and storage.

On its own, with no other Emporia products, you can configure all sorts of things. You can configure it to pull more or less power to fit any installation need. You can set it to automatically hold off on charging until “super off-peak” hours when EV charging is cheaper, or set it up to charge at any hour of your choosing.

Add other Emporia products, and you can do even more. You can manage things so that your car doesn’t charge unless there’s extra solar power, or make sure the car doesn’t charge until other power-hungry devices (on their own smart plugs) aren’t pulling a bunch of power. You can set it up so that it waits until home energy storage is full first, so that your EV isn’t taking away from your home’s energy independence.

Or, if you have any other goal or energy need in mind, you can configure these products to work together to achieve that goal. It’s really up to you, and you’ve got lots of options to make sure you’re achieving whatever your goal is.

You can get a lot more information about Emporia’s products at its Product Guide page, but in short, you can get control over your home’s energy usage instead of having to let your home’s energy usage control you. That’s a big deal.

Personally, I’d use their products to make my home as grid-independent as possible for emergency preparedness, and then optimize for using clean power as much as possible. After doing all of the reading I’ve been doing, I think we’re seeing that become a lot easier.

Testing The Smart EV Charger

Unfortunately, my home isn’t currently set up to take much advantage of this unit. I moved not that long ago, and my new home isn’t wired up to give this device the juice it needs. But, I did use a nearby 50-amp RV pedestal with a NEMA 14-50 plug to give the unit a basic initial test to start with while I’m getting ready to take more full advantage of it.

Once it was plugged in, it was able to charge my Nissan LEAF almost immediately. This is great, because they didn’t make the normal functions of the charging station depend on WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity. If you plug one of these in, it automatically defaults to charging at 40 amps (the safe level for any properly-wired NEMA 14-50 plug), and does its job, no questions asked.

If you want to get into the smart features and program the unit, you’ll need to install the Emporia app from your preferred app store. Your phone initially connects to the unit’s Bluetooth and you can then tell it to connect to your home or business’s WiFi network. Once that’s done, it offers to do a firmware update, and then you’re ready to get in and start telling it what to do, either on its own or as part of a wider home energy system. I don’t currently have any of Emporia’s other products on hand, so I just poked around the menus to see what it could do.

One thing I was able to do away from a home WiFi network or other devices was monitor the vehicle’s energy usage. I only charged for a few minutes, but it was clearly working great and pulling the vehicle’s peak power (just under 6.6 kW). I could see that you could not only monitor usage live, but also see historical usage for the month, what its maximum power usage was, and many other things.

What This Is Useful For

I’ve obviously only scratched the surface on this device’s capabilities, but so far I can see that it has great potential for just about any EV owner. Not only is it good at doing regular EV charging (or, supplying if we want to be technically correct), but it has the ability to be configured to do anything you might want to have it do as part of a wider system. Maximum power, time of use, and many other things are all in your control.

All images by Jennifer Sensiba.


 

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